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Ex-deputy ensures road projects leave room for responders

In this Nov. 25, 2019, photo, Dave McMannis, first responder liaison with the Franklin County Engineers office, poses for a photo at the Franklin County Engineers office in Columbus, Ohio. He is responsible for contacting schools , emergency responders and others to coordinate traffic before construction projects start. (Eric Albrecht/The Columbus Dispatch via AP)

By MARC KOVAC The Columbus Dispatch
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — On Tuesday mornings, Franklin County Engineer Cornell Robertson and members of his staff typically can be found presenting the county commissioners with plans and funding requests for road and bridge projects.
It takes a lot of work to maintain the hundreds of miles of roads, 357 bridges and 185 culverts that fall under the county engineer’s purview. And that work takes a lot of planning and designing and other advance tasks before workers and heavy equipment arrive in construction zones.
That is where a former longtime Franklin County deputy sheriff comes into the picture.
For 15 years, Dave McMannis has worked as the engineer’s office’s “first responder liaison,” a position that requires regular contact with law enforcement agencies, schools and others that could be affected by road and bridge work.
“There is thought before (a project begins) — how it’s going to affect constituents and the motoring public and first responders and schools is very important,” McMannis said.
The engineer’s office has scheduled 28 road and bridge projects in 2020 at a combined cost of more than $30 million.
Closing roads or bridges or restricting access to intersections as part of such projects can be a hassle for the traveling public, but the implications are bigger for emergency responders. Officers, firefighters and ambulance drivers, for example, need access to emergency scenes or quick routes through areas as they rush to provide assistance.
McMannis, 64, understands the challenges of emergency response: He worked for nearly three decades as a deputy, including active, reserve and auxiliary service.
He officially retired from the sheriff’s office in 2004 and since then has worked in the county engineer’s office, helping to coordinate road and bridge projects with law enforcement and first responders and tracking data about roads maintained by the engineer’s office, including crashes.
“In a way, we’re pre-first responders, because we’re trying to do things so that the first responders can report to other scenes of emergency,” Robertson said. “That connection, that interaction with law enforcement, is so important.”
Another big part of McMannis’ work involves the reports created when there are crashes and other incidents. His time at the sheriff’s office included patrol duties and collision investigations, meaning that he has a solid understanding of the terminology and officers’ mindsets as they completed crash reports.
Now, he routinely browses reports, compiling the information into a database that the county engineer’s office uses when considering improvement projects.
“I know what I’m looking at and what to look for,” McMannis said. “We’ll look for patterns that help us identify areas that need to be worked on or improved sooner than what we anticipated. It brings to light something we may have not realized.”
McMannis also stays in contact with businesses and others that might be affected by road or bridge projects. He said he talks to school officials to ensure that detours are safe for buses, and he works to ensure that closed roads have minimal effects on emergency routes.
Sometimes, the engineer’s office will lend orange cones to residents frustrated by drivers ignoring “Road Closed” signs and then having to turn around in private driveways. Or crews will put in extra time one day to ensure that their work doesn’t hinder access to churches that serve as Election Day polling places.
McMannis likes the personal contact, although he knows that the recipients of his calls aren’t necessarily going to be enthusiastic about detours that will be required.
“‘Hey, we’re coming you’re way; it’s not going to be fun,'” he said in describing his message in such conversations. “‘We just want to make sure you’re aware of it.'”